News You Can Use Digest – January 25, 2019

campaign finance, elections, ethics, legislative issues, lobbying, News You Can Use

National:

Lawmakers Eye Changes to Ballot Measures – Passed and Future
Governing – Alan Greenblatt | Published: 1/16/2019

Ballot measures have become a popular way to enact new policies, from minimum wage hikes and legalized marijuana to ethics reforms. But voter-approved measures are meeting more pushback. Republican lawmakers in several states are fighting ballot measures on two fronts: as was the case following the 2016 election, they are trying to overturn provisions of some laws that voters just passed in November. They are also seeking legislative changes that would make it harder to pass in the future.

Federal:

BuzzFeed’s Stumble Is Highest-Profile Misstep at a Time When Press Is Under Greatest Scrutiny
Danbury News-Times – Paul Farhi (Washington Post) | Published: 1/19/2019

Reporters at the Guardian, CNN, McClatchy News, and other outlets have published disputed, suspect, or uncorroborated stories about President Trump and the investigation swirling around him since special counsel Robert Mueller began his probe. Each instance has elicited cries of “fake news” from the president and his supporters, stoking the claim that the mainstream media is biased and irresponsible. But these disputed stories have tended to be about distinct events or actions; they were effectively clues rather than conclusions about Trump’s potential criminality. BuzzFeed News’ apparently mistaken story about Michael Cohen and Trump was of a different nature and magnitude.

GOP Reaches Landmark Agreement to Juice Small-Dollar Fundraising
Politico – Alex Isenstadt | Published: 1/21/2019

President Trump’s political team and top Republican officials have reached an agreement to reshape the party’s fundraising apparatus and close the financial gap that devastated them in the midterms. With the deal, Republicans hope to create a rival to ActBlue, the Democratic online fundraising behemoth that plowed over $700 million in small-dollar donations into Democratic coffers in the 2018 campaign. Republicans agreed to create a new platform dubbed Patriot Pass, which will be used to cultivate and process online donations.

Law Firm Tied to Manafort Reaches $4.6 Million Settlement
apnews.com – Chad Day and Eric Tucker | Published: 1/17/2019

A prominent law firm that helped former Trump campaign chairperson Paul Manafort lobby on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine agreed to pay more than $4.6 million and publicly acknowledge it failed to report its work for a foreign government. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom admitted that in 2012 it acted as an agent of Ukraine by participating in a public relations campaign for a report it authored for that country’s government. The firm will register retroactively as a foreign agent. The Justice Department, which is charged with enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, had largely turned a blind eye until Robert Mueller began charging Trump’s associates, including Manafort, who had built a lucrative business advising Russia-aligned politicians and wealthy business executives in Ukraine.

From the States and Municipalities:

California: Former California Lawmaker Registers as a Lobbyist After #MeToo Investigation
Sacramento Bee – Sophia Bollag | Published: 1/22/2019

A month after the California Assembly said he had likely violated its sexual misconduct policy, former Assemblyperson Sebastian Ridley-Thomas moved to return to the Capitol by registering as a lobbyist. The state’s online lobbying database shows he registered as a lobbyist with his firm Millennial Advisors, drawing criticism from anti-sexual harassment activists at the Capitol. Ridley-Thomas quit the Legislature in December 2017, citing health problems. Records released by the Assembly show at least two people accused him of harassment before he resigned. “We have made progress on #metoo issues in #caleg but a solution that does not include lobbyists is incomplete,” tweeted Adama Iwu, one of the lobbyists who started the We Said Enough movement.

California: With FBI Probe Looming, L.A. City Council Members Revive Plan to Limit Developer Donations
Los Angeles Times – Emily Alpert Reyes and David Zahniser | Published: 1/15/2019

Two years ago, Los Angeles City Council members called for a ban on political donations from real estate developers seeking city approval for their projects. That plan languished at City Hall and was tabled by the Ethics Commission before it officially expired. Now, with FBI agents conducting a corruption investigation into City Hall, council members have revived the idea. Under the proposal, real estate developers would be barred from giving to city candidates and officeholders once they have turned in an application that requires city approval or other action, provided the request involves building or adding more than 4,000 square feet of floor area for residential projects or 15,000 square feet for commercial projects.

Connecticut: $97 Million of Influence: Lobbyists are fixtures at the Capitol, pushing their message amid rules on gifts, perks, receptions
Hartford Courant – Josh Kovner | Published: 1/23/2019

Every January at the Connecticut Capitol, the lobbying effort revs up to a fever pitch and does not stop until the final roll call. This session, the race to gain an edge promises to be even more frenetic, propelled by highly charged issues like gun control and taxes. With a new governor and 40 new lawmakers, lobbyists will be scrambling just to make connections. While there are substantial restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, there is a sizable exception. A lobbyist can, from his or her personal account, give a legislator up to $1,000 for each of several “life events” per year, such as a wedding or birth. Each session, staffers in the Office of State Ethics school freshman legislators on the restrictions and reporting requirements.

District of Columbia: D.C. ‘Pay-to-Play’ Ban Closer to Becoming Law after Mayor Declines Veto
Washington Post – Peter Jamison | Published: 1/18/2019

Sweeping changes to campaign finance regulations in the District of Columbia are on track to become law after Mayor Muriel Bowser opted not to veto legislation passed by the city council. Among other provisions, the measure would ban campaign contributions from companies and their top executives if they hold or are seeking government contracts worth at least $250,000; give new authority and independence to the city’s Office of Campaign Finance; and require increased disclosure from independent expenditure committees.

Illinois: Contractor Challenges Illinois Campaign Finance Law
Courthouse News – Lorraine Bailey | Published: 1/18/2019

An Illinois law prohibiting government contractors from making campaign contributions is being challenged as unconstitutional after a public housing management firm lost a contract because its founder donated to Democratic gubernatorial candidates. The Habitat Company is a Chicago-based real estate firm that has managed a building called Lake Shore Plaza. Ellen Daley, Illinois’ chief procurement officer for general services, notified the company that its founder’s campaign contributions violated state law and required voiding a 2019 management contract for Lake Shore Plaza. Habitat sued to challenge Daley’s decision and the law banning government contractors or affiliated persons from making any contribution to a political committee of the officeholder responsible for awarding their contracts.

Michigan: Outgoing State Officials Turn to Lobbying Under Lax Michigan Rules
Detroit News – Jonathan Oosting | Published: 1/23/2019

At least seven former state officials and lawmakers in Michigan have registered as lobbyists or joined lobbying firms since leaving office at the end of 2018. The recent moves highlight that Michigan is among a minority of states that do not ban recent legislators, department heads, or executive branch officials from immediately taking paid jobs to lobby former colleagues. Restrictions in other states and Congress are designed to reduce ethical conflicts. Those include the potential for interest groups to promise future jobs to officials in exchange for preferential treatment while they are still in office. Michigan prohibits lawmakers from resigning to take lobbyist jobs during the term they had been elected to, but its lack of broader restrictions.

New York: Gov. Cuomo Signs Major Voting Reforms
Legislative Gazette – James Gormley | Published: 1/24/2019

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that implements major changes to the state’s election and campaign finance laws. The new laws enact early voting in New York, synchronize state and federal elections, and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. One bill will close the so-called LLC loophole by limiting political spending by a limited liability company to a total of $5,000 annually, which is the same limit as corporations. It will also require the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the donation to be attributed to that individual.

South Carolina: After Ethics Snafu, SC Lawmakers Move to Change How They Accept Gifts from Public
The State – Avery Wilks | Published: 1/23/2019

The South Carolina House moved to change its rules on accepting gifts from special interests and the public, two weeks after a donation of nearly 200 books to state lawmakers caused confusion about whether the gifts needed to be recorded on ethics filings. The new rule would prohibit anyone from dropping off gifts of any value in the House chamber. It also would require someone to get a lawmaker’s written signature before leaving any gift worth more than $25. The giver must also document with the state Ethics Commission any gift worth more than $25.

South Dakota: Lobbyist Files Suit Against South Dakota House Speaker
Sioux Falls Argus Leader – Jonathan Ellis | Published: 1/22/2019

Lobbyist Yvonne Taylor, executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League, filed suit against House Speaker Steve Haugaard after she says she was banned from the House floor for writing a critical column. According to her lawsuit, Haugaard took issue with a May column she wrote for the Municipal League’s membership magazine. Haugaard complained the column, which was published before the June primary election, made the Legislature look like “a bunch of buffoons.” Taylor complained that the number of “wackies” in the Legislature were increasing. The “wackies” oppose government and any taxation, even when groups that would pay added taxes or fees wanted them, Taylor said in the column.

Wisconsin: Judge: GOP can’t block liberal group’s Twitter comments
Charlotte Observer – Todd Richmond (Associated Press) | Published: 1/18/2019

Top Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature violated the First Amendment when they blocked a liberal advocacy group from seeing their Twitter feeds, a federal judge ruled. U.S. District Court Judge William Conley’s decision marks One Wisconsin Now’s second legal victory in as many days over Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Another federal judge struck down early-voting restrictions Vos and his fellow Republicans passed in a contentious lame-duck session in December. One Wisconsin Now and other groups had challenged those provisions days after former Gov. Scott Walker signed them into law.